Every so often an album arrives that changes the game. Think Ride the Lightning for thrash or Planetary Duality for American tech death. Fallujah’s The Flesh Prevails had a similar impact within its sphere of influence, with other bands quick to adopt various elements of Fallujah’s sound into their own. As is always the case, the results have been mixed. Some only take a handful of elements and incorporate that into what they had already been doing, such as Virvum or Aegeon. Others draw more heavily upon these influences, such as Silence Lies Fears, and could risk coming across as derivative. Every now and then someone really nails it, as Rivers of Nihil have with their latest effort, but few get there. One album which comes somewhat close is Gardenjia’s Arkestral. Released in 2016, this obscure Italian trio released a strong album which, whilst hardly original, sounds great and can help scratch that Fallujah itch for someone looking to branch out beyond that band itself.
Once you get through an intro that shouldn’t really be there, you hit “Ember”. If you close your eyes and focus on the underlying instrumentation you could be forgiven for thinking this was a Fallujah track – in the best possible way. Drums lay waste to all before them, guitars explode across the soundscape with soaring melodies, and jazzy instrumental breaks punctuate the song at several points. Considering their size the record is surprisingly well produced, whilst the writing is strong and the execution fantastic. Luckily for us, this is just the beginning.
Next up we have “Tilikum”, where the ethereal lead guitars are supported by a backbone of djent rhythms as the band bring a new dimension to the table. These two sounds represent the core elements of Arkestral, with the vocals largely taking a back seat to the instrumentation. The vocals, almost entirely harsh, are inoffensive and do what they’re there to do, but let’s face it – nobody is listening to this record for the vocal performance. Instead, the relatively sparse vocals allow the band to showcase their music and instrumentation on centre-stage; and so they should. Whether it’s the driving rhythms of “Tilikum”, the sax solo (you read that right) on the title track, the gorgeous leads or the atmospheric breaks, there is always a captivating moment just around the corner.
Case in point: “Thalassa”. The track opens up with an upbeat chord progression that wouldn’t look out of place in a prog rock or even a math rock record. A brief but beautiful solo and a dash of atmospherics hearken back to what we’ve come to expect before the record’s first clean vocals throw something new our way. This give-and-take between familiar sounds and new influences allows the record to stand up on repeat listens without boring the listener or becoming repetitive. That this section then leads into a crushing rhythmic groove that would send mosh pits into a frenzy only emphasises that Gardenjia find a way to keep things interesting despite how obvious their influences are. That’s probably enough from me. These posts aren’t called “Hey! Listen to this!” for nothing – you’ve got the embed above, what are you waiting for!